build strength to avoid injuries

The key to self-care for massage therapists and others involved in bodywork starts with avoiding injuries. That’s not necessarily an easy thing to do considering the physical demands placed on your body. There are many injuries common to professionals in the field, including tenosynovitis, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, and overuse syndrome. These conditions result from repeated or forceful bending of a limb or joint, overuse, and/or repetitive motion.

You can avoid injuries with proper exercise that doesn’t necessarily involve a costly membership to an athletic club. Following are some strength training exercises from various online sources. They are a good start to make sure you build up your strength and avoid injuries, which is a setback for you and your clients.

Strength training without taxing the grip

The health benefits of strength training are significant. They include increased muscle mass, stronger bones, more flexible joints, weight control, and increased flexibility and balance. [1]

Marc Halpern, nutrition and strength training coach, recommends the following exercises to increase strength and capacity. These exercises raise your heart rate while still putting your body under tension but don’t tax your grip. [2]

5 rounds:

  • 10 kettlebell swings (Kettlebells are cast-iron weights that like a ball. They have a handle for easy gripping)
  • Walking lunges with a weight vest or backpack

3 rounds:

  • Plank on elbows for 1 min
  • Rack carry, switching from right to left halfway (The rack carry means keeping a neutral wrist on the kettlebell, squeezing your armpit, and locking your elbow down.)

3 rounds:

  • 15 goblet squats
  • 10 push-ups

Grip strength training and hand exercises

When you think of exercise, grip strength may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but it’s essential, especially for a massage therapist. “A weak grip translates to waning endurance, weaker overall strength, and a lessened ability to bounce back from injury—especially as you age.”[3] Here’s a grip-strength training exercise from especially recommended for massage therapists:[4]

Use a soft putty or a ball that you can gently squeeze with your hand in regular spurts. It will help to strengthen your grip and also improve your lower forearm strength. Another benefit is to increase hand circulation while also stretching the muscles in your hands and forearm.

Also, to strengthen your hands and fingers and reduce fatigue, you’ll want to try these exercises from Discover Massage Australia[5]

  • Hold your hands at chest level and shake them vigorously for about 10 seconds. This will warm and limber the muscles in your hands.
  • Bunch your hands into fists at chest level. Rotate both hands clockwise for ten seconds. Relax, then rotate the other way.
  • Clasp your hands and interlace your fingers just below the waistline at the back of your body. Pull your arms upward while holding the tension for 10 counts. This will strengthen the muscles of your arms, shoulders, and hands.

Some of the best shoulder exercises and best back exercises

While proper massage mechanics should include more use of the legs and core, you can’t avoid using the muscles that control the shoulders, upper back, and neck, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).[6]

Among the best shoulder exercises, try this one, also from Discover Massage Australia:[7]

Strengthen your shoulders with Lewis Circles. They will engage muscles in the upper thoracic, neck, and shoulder areas. Place your fingertips gently on the tops of your shoulders and bring your elbows in towards the front of your chest. Lift your elbows to your ears and then lower your elbows out to the side in a circular motion. As you bring your elbows back to your chest, lower your chin to your chest to engage the cervical area. Repeat after each massage session.

The best back exercises don’t have to be complicated.  Here are three from Massage Magazine:[8]

  • Tummy tuck: Lie on your back with your arms at your side, palms facing down. Draw your navel down toward the floor. Tilt your pelvis, so your buttocks lift off the floor. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 12 times.
  • Alternate knee tuck: Lie on your back with your arms on the ground, palms down, and legs extended flat. Bend your right knee and bring it toward your chest. Then straighten the right knee and lower it as you bring your left knee toward your chest. The motion will look like you are pedaling a bicycle. Bring each knee to your chest 12 times.
  • Single leg raises: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down, and legs extended flat on the ground. Engage your abdominals, ensuring that your low back maintains contact with the ground, and raise one leg off the ground at about a 45-degree angle. Lower it and repeat with your other leg, raising and lowering every 12 times.


Caring for clients begins with your own self-care. Try these exercises and look for more online or ask friends and other professionals for recommendations.


[1] “5 Benefits of Strength Training,” American Cancer Society, October 23, 2019.
[2] Halpern, Marc, “Manual Therapists: Training Tips to Stay Healthy on the Job,” accessed August 31, 2020.
[3] Smith, Stephanie, “The Importance of Building Grip Strength,” Accessed August 31, 2020.
[4] Spraul, Tyler, “What Is The Best Hand Exercise for a Massage Therapist,”, August 25, 2020.
[5] “The Best Hand Exercises for a Massage Therapist,” Discover Massage Australia, September 25, 2018.
[6] “The Role of the Neck and Shoulders in Massage,” AMTA, Accessed August 31, 2020.
[7] “Strength Training to Prevent Pain as a Massage Therapist,” Discover Massage Australia, December 13, 2018.
[8] Sinett, Todd, D.C., 7 Exercises to Prevent Back Pain,” Massage Magazine, October 20, 2015.
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